“I think we have a better understanding of who we are and what we want to do,” said Freeze, whose Rebels play in Tuscaloosa Saturday at 5:30 p.m. on ESPN. “I think Bo (Wallace) has taken care of the ball better. If you look at last year, three turnovers turned into a touchdown and two field goals. That’s thirteen points. Maybe without those we’re in it in the fourth quarter last year, I don’t know.”
Alabama is Alabama, and Freeze said one of the keys for his team is finding a way to keep the ball for long periods of time if possible.
“Physically, they’re that good. They’re just not going to allow you to have many explosive plays We’ve got to find a way to create those or find a way to stay in third and short and convert to stay on the field.
“We’re not going to stop them the whole night (defensively). Hopefully we can score enough and stop them enough to have a shot in the fourth quarter. Our kids will play the entire 60 minutes, and we’ll see what happens.”
With three of the last four national titles in trophy cases in Tuscaloosa, the Crimson Tide is the country’s top program currently.
“Alabama’s been the standard to which you measure yourself in this conference,” Freeze said. “That hasn’t changed. It’s another opportunity for us to measure ourselves and to see where we are.”
Freeze said while the scoreboard is obviously important, there are other things he can still be pleased about concerning any one game.
“You guys know me well enough to know that I’m ok with the results as long as our best effort is put forth,” he said. “I expect our kids to do that. I think they’re excited about the opportunity. With two road wins we’ve had this year, I think that can only give us added confidence to go into some of these places and play.”
Freeze said there is still a discrepancy between the Rebels and Tide when it comes to a lot of areas. But the gap has closed some.
“It’s a mental challenge,” he said of playing at Alabama. “We have to go silent count and have to communicate a little better than playing out here. You have to lock in to all the different looks they’ll give you. Physically when I look at their depth chart, I know a lot of their kids on their three-deep. There’s a difference. Not as much as it was, but there’s still a difference.”
It all goes back to effort and execution for Freeze. He knows his team will play for 60 minutes. He wants them to execute during that timeframe as well.
“It would be nice to stand here next Monday whether we won it or lost it and say I’m proud of the effort and the way we executed,” he said. “That’s when I know our process is really getting where we want to go. Whether or not we’re good enough to pull it off, I don’t know. I sure would like to stand here next Monday and say we executed what was called correctly, we took care of the ball, we played sound in special teams, and see what happens.”
Last week’s open date was helpful, according to Freeze. The team needed some healing.
“We were excited to have last week off. Very critical for us to get some kids healthy. This is a brutal stretch for us. Doesn't get any more difficult than at Alabama on a Saturday night. Most (injured players) are close to being ready to play and go full speed. We'll need everybody the next few weeks to be able to compete at a high level.”
And what if Ole Miss, ranked 21st this week, goes to Alabama and beats the top-ranked Crimson Tide?
“If it does go our way,” Freeze said, “certainly it would be a huge boost for our program and move us a few steps forward a little quicker than what anybody thought, including myself.”
* On refs spotting the ball on offense: "It's been better this year. As conferences become more accustomed to this type offense, it only becomes natural for it to be better, as long as it’s within the rules, which it certainly it is. I always want it to be faster. I have great respect for Steve Shaw and the officials in our league. They’ve been very, very good."
* On the Alabama defense: “They’re complicated. They have new wrinkles every game. They give you every look you can imagine. Those of us into this pace offense or tempo offense, it really is the cutting edge right now. And it will fade out at some point, too, I’m sure. Coach Saban has done some of these same things defensively, in my opinion. He came in and has been cutting edge on the defensive stuff. They’re very multiple, very physical up front. You have a hard time sustaining consistent drives against them. They present a lot of issues."
* On Vincent Sanders: "He will play. He had a full practice yesterday. He'll be ready to go. We'll rotate them and keep them fresh. Love having him back and it gives us another threat for sure."
* On Denzel Nkemdiche: "He says he's going to play. He's planning on practicing tomorrow. I will not play him if I don't feel he's ready. It’s a long season. We'll need all capable bodies to make it through this season. If he’s ready to go, certainly we’ll play him. It will probably be Friday before we know for sure."
* On Pierce Burton and Emmanuel McCray: "They’re good. Last week off was a Godsend for both of them. We got in more of a practice Sunday night than usual, and they both looked very, very good. We’ll rotate the three of them. You can’t keep Laremy (Tunsil) off the field. He’s that good. I’m not sure how we’ll do the numbers. We’ll try to keep them all fresh. All three will play significant snaps. Patrick Junen is back too and healthy, so that’s good for us."
* On his own receivers against Alabama’s secondary: "I like our receivers against any secondary. I don’t think Alabama’s weak there. I know there’s been talk of that. I know they’ve held out a few kids too that will be ready to go this game. They’re not weak anywhere. But I like our receivers. I’ve said that from day one of camp. I think they block well. I think they catch well. I think they have speed, size, athletic ability. I’m a fan of our receivers."
* On Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron: "He's a winner. He wants the ball in his hands at critical moments and has proven he can make those plays at a critical time. That’s a special quality. To be the leader of a team with that caliber of players on it Alabama has, it appears to me they're giving him some flexibility on some run-pass checks. He knows exactly what they want, and he gets them in the right thing."